Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Poem366: "autumn, presencing" by Liang Huichun

autumn, presencing by Liang Huichun

autumn, presencing by Liang Huichun, Strawberry Hedgehog, 2020

Welcome to Poem366 Central, our base of operations. The whole crew is here, test-driving poems and kicking some wheels. (Hi, I’m the whole crew — Karen, poet, lover of poetry.)

Maybe you don’t picture a Poem366 factory, but you probably envision an orderly process for a yearlong poetry appreciation project. One doesn’t jump into such a thing without a plan, right?

Wrong. My husband, the incredible Michael Czyzniejewski, has a Story366 blog that he likes to do on leap years — visit here: My two sons and I fully support his daily book review project, but I should note that it’s not easy. His commitment to his project is one he takes seriously, and so family things have to wait, occasionally, while he reads a book or finishes up a review.

I was inspired by his dedication in 2016, and I saw firsthand the benefits of such a project — staying absolutely current with the newest writers, building discipline in reading and considering what he’s read. Less than a week before the re-start of Mike’s Story366 blog, I decided I’d like to give it a try, too — but with poems, which are a thousand times cooler, obviously. (And shorter, I should add — not a small consideration when reading a book a day.)

A few days before Jan. 1, 2020, I posted a request for books to review to the four winds, and friends and fellow members of writing groups were generous in responding. I like paper copies, but some kind souls were able to zoom some electronic copies my way rather quickly so that I would have a library to draw on right away. I also contacted some presses and requested review copies from 2018 or later. (I must have worded my email in a weird way, because a lot have just sent me 2018 books, thinking that was what I was after.)

But I also have my mailing address on the right side of my blog (over there---à), and sometimes people send me a book or two without my asking, just because. That happened today, and what a delightful surprise it was to open my mail and find two books from a press I was unfamiliar with, Strawberry Hedgehog, by two writers who are from Missouri, which, of course, makes my heart sing.

For today, my focus will be one of these two books: “autumn, presencing” by Liang Huichun (with paintings by Steven Schroeder). Both are gorgeous, and I’m looking forward to reading the other, by Schroeder, soon.

The first thing I love about “autumn, presencing” is that it’s square. I’m a fool for square poetry books (by which I mean that they are exactly as tall as they are wide). Maybe this is a weird preference, but I think they look elegant, and they often signal shorter poems, which I tend to enjoy more than longer work.

I also love that second word, “presencing.” That’s certainly a focus in my life now — I have a daily meditation practice in addition to my daily reading and blogging practices (and momming and working and poeming, etc.) And when I factor in a third factor, the gorgeous cover, featuring a Schroeder watercolor, I am instantly hooked.

The book contains Chinese versions of poems alongside their English translations, and the first piece in the book is the title poem, presented with capital letters here: “Autumn, Presencing.” I am always interested in writers who join me in my effort to recognize the lyricism in everyday life, and Liang delivers:

My verse, still
waiting for winnowing
like wet rice, unharvested, still,
is a story behing told. But autumn
water is crystal clear, flowing
clouds and my mortgage
vanishing together.

She reifies the mortgage reference in the next set of lines: “Everything is in order, / only the four walls of my house standing.” The house is (is this a pun?) foundational to ideas of security, stability, and order, so I found this image very satisfying.

Another poem I enjoyed was “Loneliness,” which stair-stepped from familiar depictions of loneliness to a lovely, unexpected image: “Loneliness is a lane in evening / that can never forget sandals’ echoing.” The truth of that assessment was undeniable.


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